Art Commentary: Favorite Exhibitions of 2012

It’s always difficult to select outstanding art exhibits from any given year. The challenge is twofold: first, what should be the criteria for “outstanding?” (That’s so complicated an issue, this critic doesn’t even deal with it.) Second, we might just as well admit that we end up picking our “favorite” shows. Then again, what constitutes “favorite?” Let’s face it: such a selection task is pretty subjective.

Like last year’s choices, the student art shows at both Guild Hall and the Parrish Art Museum were extraordinary, especially considering the fact that hardly anyone cares about art in the American educational system. How many times, in fact, did we hear any presidential candidate mention the word ART? Congratulations to the local museums (and schools) for their continuing commitment to arts-in-education.

Another show that’s ongoing and special is the Annual Members Exhibit at Guild Hall, with area artists contributing to a non-juried presentation. Many works are exceptional, but more importantly, the venue highlights the arresting diversity of art in the Hamptons (although some might say there is a lack of variety when it comes to conceptual art, for example).

Abstract art was bountiful as usual this year, but the most profound exhibits were mounted at the new Parrish Art Museum show (Recent Acquisitions) and at the current Guild Hall display from its permanent collections. If ever there were any doubts about the importance of abstraction, these compelling exhibitions dispelled them quickly. Consider at the Parrish, for instance, Donald Sultan’s stunning “Polish Landscape 11” about Auschwitz, Keith Sonnier’s neon and aluminum sculpture and Bryan Hunt’s “Veil Falls.” Or at Guild Hall, works by Perle Fine, Lee Krasner and Mary Abbot.

There were some salient solo exhibits as well this past year, including Eric Fischl’s “Beach Life” at Guild Hall, where his relationship between figures evoked new meanings. Also at Guild Hall were recent abstract works by Frank Wimberley (winner of the 2010 Annual Members Exhibition) where music and art enjoyed another kind of relationship.

While two other solo shows were in much smaller venues, they were no less special, each in their own way: Michael Knigin’s daunting commemoration of Anne Frank at Temple Adas Israel in Sag Harbor (“The Art of Remembrance”) and Andrea Cote’s psychological study at Dowling College’s Anthony Giordano Gallery (Body of Evidence). What made these exhibits unique was their masterful focus on both political and personal themes.

Overall, our favorite show was Persistence of Pollock at the Pollock Krasner House where various artists used Jackson Pollock’s themes and styles in their own work. Especially revealing were pieces by Red Grooms, Vik Muniz and Ray Johnson, but it was curators Helen Harrison and Bobbi Coller who captured our attention with their creative perspective.

There were, of course, some fine exhibits that centered on works other than the visual arts, like “Escape,” Guild Hall’s homage to video with Laurie Anderson as a standout. And then there was an extraordinary example of performance art: Joshua’s Light Show at the Parrish Museum.

Finally, there was a “show” of sorts featuring architecture, facilitated by the East Hampton Historical Society’s House and Garden Tour. Particularly wonderful were “Frogs Pond,” a modernist residence designed by Maziar Behrooz and the 19th century Loper-Strada House. Each domicile has a different sensibility, Frogs Pond filled with glass, wood, geometrically positioned beams and windows overlooking gardens and bridges. Conversely, the Loper-Strada House is a restored farmhouse, saturated with owner Michelle Murphy’s paintings and drawings of bygone days. Dried flowers, an old-fashioned kitchen and a piano room complete the warm, inviting ambience that lingers even after we’ve left the home.

We look forward to an even better 2013, equally saturated with art that stays in our hearts and minds.

For current exhibits at Guild Hall (158 Main Street, East Hampton), visit www.guildhall.org or call 631-324-0806.

For the “Recent Acquisitions” at the Parrish Art Museum (279 Montauk Highway), Water Mill, visit www.parrishart.org or call 631-283-2118.

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